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Interview by Lee Masterson
Fiction Factor: How do you feel the Internet has affected your writing and your career?
Greg Bear - It's made it a lot easier to exchange ideas with readers and writers and scientists. Messages are virtually instant, and I've always disliked printing out letters and envelopes and licking stamps. So I'm much faster with an email reply than with letters.
As well, having a website (http://www.gregbear.com, run by Terran McCanna) has been very useful. The site receives a steady drumbeat of hits--about seventy to eighty thousand every month--and that has to be good! I try to post articles and other items every now and then to keep the value up--but I have yet to fully use this new medium. In a way, these sites are like the fanzines of old--places to express opinions away from the constraining hands of editors who may or may not know what they're doing. Caveats are in order, but freedom is the benefit!
Fiction Factor - Has having a presence on the 'net helped or hindered your sales?
Greg Bear - DARWIN'S RADIO is my bestselling book (in terms of copies sold in one year) to date, so a number of factors--including the 'net--have obviously had a positive effect. Information is flowing very quickly to people who would not have had such direct access years ago. This allows news about a good book or other artistic endeavor to travel fast--but could also sink a bad one!
Fiction Factor - Do you foresee a future in the Electronic Publishing field, and do you have plans to head in this direction?
Greg Bear - My books have been available from ereads, Peanut Press, and other publishers for over four years now. More is planned--including a revised book/etext edition of BLOOD MUSIC, which I'm preparing right now. The book is in print in the UK, but has just gone out of print in the USA.
Fiction Factor - Do you write your stories according to a pre-organized plotline?
Greg Bear - I provide an outline to my publisher, which sells the book, and then write a novel similar to what's in the outline, but allow myself a considerable degree of freedom. A book is organic--it changes as it grows. Usually, however, I know where I'm going to be at the end of the novel, and have key scenes, like road markers, throughout, that guide me.
Fiction Factor - How much research goes into your work, and how much do you rely on imagination?
Greg Bear - I do a lot of research, much of it for fun. As a novel gets written, I write in all the little details that require even more research, and then focus on learning the facts about those details. So a general background is essential, but also focused research specific to the project, usually conducted as I'm writing, and learning what more I need to know. Research on DARWIN'S RADIO and DARWIN'S CHILDREN was much broader, because I genuinely felt a sympathy for the changes happening in biology. Reaction from working biologists has been very gratifying--and challenging!
Fiction Factor - All new writers hear the words "Don't give up your day job". What was your day job before you wrote full-time? And how hard was it, on both you and your family, to write around that schedule?
Greg Bear - I gave up my day job in 1975. I last worked in the Mithras-Unicorn bookstore/movie theater in La Jolla. Since then, I've done freelance illustrating projects, lecture series, consulting, and other odd bits now and then, but in the last fifteen years have focused almost entirely on writing. Not having a full-time job is both good and bad. Good, because it gives me much more time to write, and bad, because for some writers, it can isolate them from a social milieu essential to keeping your balance--that is, the real world of people and problems. I work hard to understand people who have day jobs, because they are, in fact, my characters!
Fiction Factor - Your publishing history is quite illustrious. What would you say has been the major factor in your still-rising popularity? (Aside from writing great stories, that is!)
Greg Bear - I've secretly nurtured a great set of readers, willing to go with me wherever I wished to explore. That core audience has allowed me a remarkable degree of freedom, while guaranteeing a decent income, and I am eternally grateful to them. Along the way, various novels pick up other readers, some of whom stick around to see what will happen next! I have a great time corresponding with my readers, and hope to keep answering my email personally for a long time to come.
Fiction Factor - How much do you personally contribute towards promotion of your books?
Greg Bear - I do tours, post stuff on the website, give talks locally and around the country--even internationally. And in general, by getting around and talking about what interests me (I rarely talk about my books or writing per se--much prefer talking about ideas and trends) I seem to keep folks interested.
Fiction Factor - By now, most people know that Darwin's Radio has won the Nebula award. Did you have an idea that it would receive this kind of accolade when you were writing it?
Greg Bear - Awards are not a good reason to write. I've won my fair share, and understand the perspective of both a winner and a "loser"--and I'll say straight out that some of my best novels and stories were never even nominated for awards. It's always a treat to win, but inevitably I end up feeling guilty--I'm the kind of fellow who likes to include my friends and colleagues and congratulate them for their very real accomplishments. Prizes are in their nature exclusionary, and literature is hardly a zero-sum game, winner take all. All books are different, and reach different people at different times. Humility arises when one considers the writers who were never awarded the Nobel prize--and contrast them with some who did!
Fiction Factor - Do you have hopes that the follow-on novel, Darwin's Children, will follow suit?
Greg Bear - As I said, I write for my readers, and to see where the story will take me. Awards are gravy--very good gravy, mind you, but I'd hate to focus on them.
Fiction Factor - What piece of parting advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Greg Bear - My best advice is to write about what you love, and what scares you. If you do that, you're an honest writer, and your work will be worthwhile.
Fiction Factor - Thank you once again for taking the time to answer our questions.
Greg Bear - My pleasure!
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